If you follow American politics, you’re probably familiar with the term “job creators”. This term, which is essentially a euphemism for the wealthy, is used to argue that taxes on the top income earners should remain low (or even be lowered further). As the argument goes, rich people are society’s innovators, investors, and business owners. If we take away their capital or reduce their incentive to earn, then this class of individual will stop producing jobs for the rest of us.
As is often the case, it is convenient for the news media to frame the argument in adversarial terms for the purpose of entertainment. For example, a couple of weekends ago CNN pitted two individuals against each other to debate whether the wealthy or the middle class were the ones responsible for job creation.
On the one hand:
[The world] is awash in capital. What we lack today are consumers. The only reason any company invests, the only reason any company hires someone is because they believe they’re going to have a customer for that. Look. Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that a capitalist hires more people only as a course of last resort when there are no options available other than meeting increasing demand from customers.
And on the other:
[I]f you don’t have the investment in place first of all you don’t get the consumption after the fact… what matters is how much income you’ve created. And we are creating way more income at the median than Europe and Japan are creating. And that is because innovation is driving our economy.
But there is no class conflict here, and no legitimate intellectual debate as to who creates jobs. That’s because everyone does; the economy is an ecosystem made up of various people who come together and play different roles. One individual invents a product. Another individual puts forth the capital for its production. Another lends his labor towards building it. Someone else distributes and sells it. And at the end of the supply chain, someone must be there to buy it.
This is patently obvious to anyone who, you know, lives on Earth. So why is something so seemingly uncontroversial up for debate now? There are a couple of political reasons, but if you look more closely you can discern some spiritual reasons as well.
First, the messy politics. The 2008 crisis has worsened our national debt outlook, to the point that we’ll probably need to collect more in taxes (in addition to cutting public spending) in order to put us on a sustainable debt trajectory. To many it seems logical not to raise taxes on the poor and the middle class, considering the sluggish recovery from recession and still high levels of unemployment, leaving the rich as a sensible slice of the income spectrum to carry the burden. This is a very hotly debated issue in Washington right now, as the so-called Bush tax cuts are set to expire at year-end and there are different opinions as to who, if anyone at all, should be allowed to keep their lower tax rates.
Secondly, it seems more people are starting to understand our country’s growing disparity of incomes, thanks in part to the “99%” movement. More people are also learning about the low effective rates some of the very rich pay on their taxes, highlighted by the proposed “Warren Buffet rule” and presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s release of his tax returns, which provided a very visible example to the American public of a super wealthy individual paying a super low effective tax rate. In this context, some very wealthy political donors are looking at the prospect of paying more — potentially, a lot more — in taxes, and have thrown their weight behind convincing the electorate that asking the rich to pay more taxes (even if that only means paying the same effective tax rates as the middle class) will mean less jobs for the rest of us.
But there is also a deeper spiritual issue component, which is that human beings fail to emotionally embrace the concept of oneness. We all know, for instance, that race is a social construct with little scientific integrity; there are no discernible genetic boundaries between what we call the races. And yet, racism still exists, as our emotional and spiritual nature sometimes fails to catch up to scientific truth. The same is true about the economy. The notion that economic success comes only from one class of individual is scientifically flimsy. And yet, it resonates with some people emotionally.
How does the Baha’i Faith approach this? First and foremost, the Baha’i teachings establish that all human beings are inherently equal in the sight of God and deserving of dignity. Here is the well-known passage from Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words, where he speaks as the mouthpiece of God:
O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. (Arabic Hidden Words, v. 68)
But the Faith also recognizes that people are different, with varying levels of capacity and talent. Here are ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s words:
Humanity, like a great army, requires a general, captains, under-officers in their degree, and soldiers, each with their own appointed duties. Degrees are absolutely necessary to ensure an orderly organization. An army could not be composed of generals alone, or of captains only, or of nothing but soldiers without one in authority. The certain result of such a plan would be that disorder and demoralization would overtake the whole army. (Paris Talks, p. 152)
This should not be difficult to grasp. People have different skills and capabilities, but everyone plays a role. The issue is not whether the idea holds water intellectually. Rather, the issue is whether or not human beings’ hearts are capable of falling in love with the idea.